Ron DeSantis is a Groomer
The real problem with "don't say gay" is, indeed, what the bill doesn't say.
Since I am taking some time off for Easter, I figured I’d give everyone a twofer this week and talk about the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that was recently signed into law in Florida. To get the easy part out of the way, I think it’s important to say that a lot of the criticism of the bill is overblown. That’s for two reasons:
The bill earned its moniker while it was still in the drafting period, and earlier versions if it were more extreme. Even though the language was changed to make it less nutty, the “Don’t Say Gay” label stuck around.
In politics, everything is overblown.
That said, the bill still deserves a lot of criticism, and it’s not even clear if it will hold up in court. You see, once upon a time, conservatives believed in the law of (what they called) “unintended consequences.” One of the OG conservatives, John Locke, wrote about it a lot, but it used to be a mainstay of GOP politics, back when they used to actually be a Party of limited government.
The argument is basically that government should be hesitant and/or careful when enacting a law for public “benefit,” because human behavior generally tends to make things worse. A good example is prohibition, which had the “noble” cause of getting people to drink less. It actually worked at first, but then alcohol consumption started to increase, and it led to a huge rise in organized crime (Boardwalk Empire is a great TV show, while we’re here). The “unintended consequences” of prohibition proved to be worse than alcohol consumption, and we eventually yeeted the 18th Amendment into the dustbin of history.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill doesn’t really fit squarely here, since its “noble cause” is pretty dubious (although Mona Charen makes some good points here). But in principle, it rhymes with “unintended consequences,” and it’s due to the vagueness of the law, rather than its actual wording. Here is Scott Shackford pointing this out:
H.B. 1557, known by its opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, was passed by Florida's Legislature earlier in the year and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in March. The bill's supporters insist that its purpose is to stop inappropriate discussions of sex and gender in front of young school children from kindergarten through third grade.
But that's not what the law actually says—it instead bans discussion about "sexual orientation or gender identity" in those grades, not sex. It further bans any discussion about topics that are not "age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students" without identifying what any of that means. It also allows parents of students to take schools to court and seek financial damages for violations of this very vaguely written law.
Some conservatives have bragged that while the, “Don’t Say Gay” bill polls poorly, parents express support for it when the actual text of the law is read to people over the phone. But this is the problem: It doesn’t really matter what the law says; it matters what the law will do, and the more vague a law is, the more it can do.
Here is Gabriel Malor pointing out all of its potential problems:
Again, the problem really isn’t that the law says anything vicious about gay people; it’s that it provides potential solutions in search of a problem. The law says that a school district may not encourage classroom:
Like Malor points out, none of this is defined. So, here is a real, plausible scenario that can happen under the law: Because “age-appropriate” isn’t defined, a teacher of ten year-old students could actually describe the sexual activity of a heterosexual couple in great detail, and still be in keeping with H.B. 1557. That discussion doesn’t center on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” so it’s actually in the clear.
As Shockford points out, at least one person in the legislature tried to clarify this to make the bill more clear, but it wasn’t allowed:
If you believe people who say that H.B. 1557 is about stopping only sexual discussions around children, you might think that the answer to these questions would be "yes." But that's not what the bill actually says, and this lawsuit is intended to highlight that fundamental flaw. In fact, when one lawmaker attempted to amend the bill to make the language more explicitly about prohibiting discussion of "human sexuality or sexual activity," he was shot down.
This vagueness used to be everything that conservatives used to point out was problematic about too much government. In the post-Trump GOP, they are instead choosing to lean into it.
You have probably heard Republicans calling anyone who doesn’t support this bill a “groomer,” since they want to teach kids about sexual education. This is fitting in snugly with the recent nonsense brought against (inevitable Supreme Court Justice) Ketanji Brown Jackson. David French criticizes the narrative:
To drive the point home, if you are making the case that anyone who opposes this bill is a “groomer” supporting the sexualization of children, the bill itself currently allows there to be explicit discussion of heterosexual sex with ten year-olds. Doesn’t that make Ron DeSantis - who signed the bill - the biggest “groomer?” You can see how silly the logic is here, but the GOP is employing it anyway. Of course DeSantis isn’t a groomer, and neither are the people criticizing H.B. 1557. (Edit: Shortly after I posted this, David French came out with a similar piece. Basically, if everyone is a groomer, no one is a groomer.)
And this is all hypocritical to boot:
A couple weeks ago, I talked about how the accusations against KBJ were dog whistles for QAnon, and it still seems like the Right is leaning into that hard. But I do think there is some projection going on here (and it’s not related to the insane Tennessee bill that just passed essentially allowing for child brides) that goes beyond GOP support for Roy Moore or a whole host of Republicans:
It seems like some Republicans are trying really hard to get out ahead of what will inevitably be a terrible news cycle for Matt Gaetz. As we have discussed multiple times, Gaetz is under investigation for a myriad of crimes, namely the sex-trafficking of a minor. A couple months ago, his main accomplice in that crime - Joel Greenberg - was granted a sentencing delay, which usually means that he is continuing to give investigators lots of yummy information.
You might say to yourself, “Why would Gaetz really matter to the rest of the GOP, when they can just dismiss him as a creep whose only real friend in Congress is Marjorie Taylor Greene?”
It’s not really that Gaetz and Greenberg by themselves are the issue. It’s more about who they are associated with:
See you all on Friday. As a bonus, here is a thread I did on the recent developments in the Durham investigation:
Margot Cleveland @ProfMJClevelandTHREAD: Lots of filings hit in Sussmann. Check this out. Was this on Baker's phone the OIG didn't share with Durham until someone else mentioned it? https://t.co/v2cQK0WmcI